Devil’s Advocate: Walmart turns the page on female objectification with removal of Cosmopolitan

In Devil's Advocate, Opinion
An illustration of Cosmopolitan Magazine on a shelf between Entertainment Weekly and The Atlantic. The people on the other magazines are looking at the woman on Cosmopolitan who is surrounded by words like "Love," "Hot," and "Sex" and is saying "You know, they used to put me at the front of the store."
(Amanda Tran / Daily Titan)

No matter what customers purchase at a grocery store, approaching the checkout line means being greeted by shelves of magazines to browse — among them Cosmopolitan, a neon-pink symbol of outdated female objectification that could be on its way out, especially with the continuing progress of female equality.

Walmart’s recent decision to remove the magazine out of nearly 5,000 locations was a “business decision,” according to a statement given to Newsweek. The supermarket was also influenced by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, with reasoning that seems to be rooted in the “sexually explicit” content found on the magazine’s covers.

While yanking Cosmo off the shelves of Walmart may only seem reasoned by the conservative organization on its backs, it brings attention to the problematic nature of the publication that seems to ignore many of the larger issues facing women today.

“SEX” (just like that, in all caps) is more often than not just as significant of a word as the title of the magazine itself, as female icons pose proudly on display in a Photoshop illusion, seeming to indulge the male gaze.

Promoting openness of female sexuality is incredibly important – the problem with the magazine isn’t because of it’s heavy emphasis on sex and beauty, it’s that it seems to suggest that all women really care and read about is limited to sex and beauty.

Reading about powerful, successful women on the cover like Cardi B in April’s issue or Mandy Moore in March’s issue could potentially be empowering. But more often than not, their lavish fashion shoots take up more room than the interview, questions concerning relationships and male co-stars go unasked and headline buzzwords like “explicit” are used to entice readers to look inside.

One could chalk up the continued mass distribution of Cosmo as an industry rule that “sex sells,” but much of the publishing and advertising industry has been alienating its main audience for some time with its shallow content.

While it claims to empower women by promoting female beauty, the fashion and beauty industry clearly has a hold on magazines like Cosmo, with nearly half of its pages sold to countless makeup and clothing products. There are many more important discussions to be had between women than just the best ways to feel sexy or stay in a relationship.

Cosmopolitan is currently one of the best-selling “Women’s Interest” magazines on Amazon but has comparatively made little effort to balance its focus toward a more well-rounded woman.

A look at the covers of competitors such as InStyle, Elle, Marie Claire and Redbook show a clear contrast in the way its cover stars are treated. This month’s InStyle issue labels Demi Lovato as “Lover, Fighter, Survivor” next to an image of her standing proud in a striking red dress, and Angelina Jolie on the cover of Elle draws the reader in with a photo focused on the actress’ eyes and the words “Angelina: What She’s Fighting For.”

Cosmo is instead continuing a long tradition of telling women who to be, rather than inspiring them to pave their own path through Cosmo’s content. It normalizes the idea that women need to spend the majority of their time on extensive beauty regiments, shopping for fashion trends and constantly pondering how to please their (seemingly always heterosexual) significant other.

When the publication recently attempted to tackle the issue of equal pay in an article, it did so only in 32 quotes by celebrities sharing their problems and experiences in Hollywood. While it’s entertaining to hear what Beyoncé and Emma Stone have to say on this subject, an article like this removes readers from the issue and misses an opportunity to explore how unequal pay is plaguing the entire nation, and frames it more like a celebrity-only issue.

The checkout line of a grocery store may seem like a mundane place, but it’s one of the few places where written publications are given a platform. If Cosmo and other similar magazines were to use its covers to promote female empowerment and sexuality in more realistic and thought-provoking ways, it could gain more respect and wider readership. It could be more than just a guide for the latest and hottest sex positions rather than being pushed to the back of the store.

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